Photosynthesis in Early Land Plants: Adapting to the Terrestrial Environment

  • John A. RavenEmail author
  • Dianne Edwards
Part of the Advances in Photosynthesis and Respiration book series (AIPH, volume 37)


The embryophytic land plants evolved from charophycean green algae, one of the three clades of green algae which are important components of the microflora of present-day terrestrial habitats. The earliest embryophytes are recognised in the fossil record from their characteristic spores, with little evidence as to their vegetative structure. These earliest embryophytes presumably resemble the extant terrestrial green algae in being desiccation tolerant and poikilohydric. Only the embrophytes subsequently developed the homoiohydry which characterised the organism which today contribute most of the biomass and primary productivity on land, and allowed many of the organisms to become desiccation intolerant in the vegetative phase. Pre-Carboniferous land plant fossils have very few examples of bryophytes other than spores: exceptions are the Middle Devonian Metzgeriothallus and the Upper Devonian Pallaviciniites. Many of the other fossils are recognisable as polysporangiophytes, including vascular plants. Homoiohydry in some of these plants is shown by the occurrence of cuticle and stomata, although there is no fossil evidence bearing on desiccation tolerance/intolerance. In addition to the embryophytes there are many other fossils, e.g. Pachytheca, Parka, Protosalvinia, Prototaxites and Spongiophyton, which are probably photosynthetic organisms, but are not readily classified: algae, bryophytes and lichens have been suggested, in addition to the possibility that some represent terrestrial fungi. The high atmospheric CO2 concentrations in the early Phanerozoic would have permitted higher rates of photosynthesis than occurs today on the basis of the surface area of the plant exposed to the gas phase because large concentration gradients from the atmosphere to the carboxylase driving diffusive entry of CO2 are possible. Relatively complex morphologies (several layers of photosynthetic structures) and/or anatomy (ventilation within the organisms using gas spaces) are required if the light-harvesting capacity is to be matched by the CO2 assimilation capacity.


Vascular Plant Desiccation Tolerance Photosynthetic Organism Middle Devonian Carbon Isotope Ratio 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Crassulacean Acid Metabolism;


CO2 concentrating mechanism;


quantitative measure of the stable carbon isotope ratio relative to the standard carbon in the VPDB (Vienna Peee Dee Belemnite). δ13C = {[(13C/12C)sample/(13C/12C)standard] – 1} × 1,000;


109 years;


106 years;


Ribulose Bisphosphate Carboxylase-Oxygenase



The authors are grateful to the editors for helpful comments. The University of Dundee is a registered Scottish charity, No SC015096


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Plant SciencesUniversity of Dundee at the James Hutton Institute, The James Hutton InstituteInvergowrie, DundeeUK
  2. 2.School of Plant BiologyUniversity of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia
  3. 3.School of Earth and Ocean SciencesCardiff UniversityCardiffUK

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